“No, not now. There wouldn’t be any point. But wow, what a potential,” he murmured, letting his perception range farther among the strained and troubled rocks and soil many meters beneath this fancy pavement.
Trilby was frowning lightly now, with more than concentration, Adrian thought; and he himself felt an undercurrent of slight uneasiness. Well, it was hardly astonishing if land in the vicinity of an ancient Red Temple, which had been transported magically into the City at some time in the past, should prove to be inhabited or infested by beings, powers, that seemed strange even to magicians. Perhaps yet another plane of existence, containing yet other inhabitants, was nearby.
“Well,” said Trilby at last, and sighed like one unable any longer to avoid facing a distasteful job. “I suppose we ought to see about digging out our tile.”
“I suppose,” the Prince agreed doubtfully. “But listen, Trill-”
“Are we really sure that this is the right place? The Teacher didn’t say anything about the pavement being sunken in like this. I thought the place we wanted was going to be square and level.”
“Good point. I wonder?” Trilby scraped with the toe of her boot at the green-scummed tiles of the visible portion of the floor.
And now, to Adrian, the tiles in this pavement were indeed beginning to look different than the ones he remembered in the study of Trimbak Rao. Because of the flood, the only tiles he could see clearly here were those around the edge. These were of an abstract pattern, containing no erotic figures, whereas those in the study had portrayed a scene, or several scenes . . .
“I don’t know,” Trilby was saying. “Remember those tiles we saw on Teacher’s wall? Didn’t some of them make up a scene, a figure of a woman, giving birth?”
“Yes. I can remember that. And some of them were just porn, like the Temple wall.”
“No, that’s not right.”
The two explorers stood looking at each other in moderate puzzlement. Not that they were really concerned. Neither of them saw anything in their situation to worry about.
“The main point,” said Trilby, giving her dark hair a shake, “is that we shouldn’t rush things. We must make sure of what we’re doing.” The air seemed to be growing warmer, and she fanned herself with the hand that did not hold her staff.
Adrian had to agree. “Yes, you’re right. The Teacher told us not to rush things. Over and over he told us that.”
“Maybe we should scout around the area a little more.”
“I think we should.”
Without really thinking about it, they had turned their backs on the square of tiles, and were now standing side by side on the edge of the little pond. Its water looked deep and was almost calm, mirror-like until it began to curl into a white roar at the very edge of the dam. A small pier, wooden and moss-grown, projected from the near shoreline out into the pond, and a dugout canoe was tied at the pier’s far end.
Trilby knelt down suddenly and thrust her hand into the water. “Feels cool.”
Slipping off his pack, Adrian knelt beside her, cupping water in his own palms. “Sure does.” Then he raised his eyes suddenly, staring at the canoe. There was something unusual about it, besides the fact that it had been carved from a single log, and finished smoothly, with exquisite skill. But for the moment he couldn’t quite pin the oddity down.
Yes, something unusual, with overtones of the festive and the unpredictable . . .
“The sky’s changed,” Trilby informed him suddenly.
And indeed the day had now become almost normal. A bright and normal-looking sun, not too hot, was clearly visible over the building that adjoined the little park on the side opposite the Red Temple. Adrian made a mental note to himself to be sure to observe the way the sun moved as the day advanced He still had no idea of the proper directions in this world-if indeed such an idea had any real meaning here.
At the moment, apart from the twisted architecture surrounding them, and the occasional inexplicable sounds that issued from those structures, there was hardly any indication that they were in the City at all. Or so it seemed to Adrian.
The little river maintained its muffled roar. The hot sun shimmered on the brown and gray of the pavement tiles, and glared on the surface of the pond.
The vessel resting almost motionless in the calm water drew his attention once again, and he remarked: “We have some canoes very much like that one at home. But I never saw one so neatly finished.”
“We should be getting on with our job.” Trilby’s sudden protest began in a tone of considerable urgency, but before she had uttered half a dozen words her voice once more lacked conviction.
“I suppose we should,” agreed Adrian, after taking some time to think the matter over. But even as he spoke he felt a reluctance to hurry, or to be hurried.
By now the two of them had slipped off their packs, and were sitting quietly, contentedly beside the pool, contemplating the water and the canoe that drifted lightly on its tether. It was as if they were waiting for they knew not what. All around them, beyond the borders of the park, the City seemed to have grown quieter, except for the ceaseless roaring of the stream. Even the strange sounds proceeding from the buildings came less frequently. All hints of dangerous magic were in abeyance.
Methodically, unhurriedly, Trilby pulled off her boots, and lowered her feet into the cooling water, wiggling her brown toes. The riparian ledge on which the explorers sat was just at a handy height above the pool for this maneuver.
Adrian imitated her actions. “That feels good.”
“It sure does.”
Trilby poked aimlessly at the water with her hiking staff, then laid it beside her on the ledge. “I wonder if we have time for a swim. I’d like a chance to really cool off.”
“That sounds even better.” And it did, it sounded great, except maybe there was something else they ought to be doing . . . but the thought refused to complete itself just now. Later he would come back to it…
Now the girl, frowning slightly, had turned her head toward him. “Adrian, I know you’re not, well, you’re not grown up yet, but. . .”
“Oh, sure. If you want a dip, I can take a walk.” In Adrian’s experience most people were fairly casual about nudity; he felt faintly surprised, and vaguely complimented that Trilby did not want him to see her with her clothes off.
She stood up. “Then it’ll be your turn to swim. Or maybe we should toss to see who goes in first?”
“No, you go ahead. I’m not in any hurry.”
Adrian turned his back on Trilby and started to take a walk. The hedged border of the park was only a short distance ahead of him, and beyond it rose the distorted bulk of the mysterious Red Temple, an interesting goal for exploration.
There were several openings in the boundary hedge, where little paths had been worn through, and the prince chose the nearest one. Only when he had begun to climb the broad stone stairs leading ultimately to the Red Temple did he realize that he had left his pack, canteen, and boots back at poolside. Oh, well. He climbed on barefoot, becoming interested in the configuration of the structure before him. Toward one end of the Temple, on his left, the carved figures and other elements of the design were all grotesquely flattened in one dimension, elongated in another, as if the perspective of the space in which they existed had been changed by the magical forces that had brought them to this exotic place and forced them into coexistence with other elements from elsewhere.
A selection of dark doorways, all leading into the Temple’s interior, stood open ahead of him. And now that he was alone, he began to be troubled by the feeling that there was some trick, some clue, regarding their surroundings that ought to be of concern to him and Trilby but which they had not yet discovered. It wasn’t a strong feeling, only a slight irritation. And it wasn’t really a matter of danger, not as Adrian perceived it now. In fact he wasn’t thinking of danger at all. But there was something forgotten or overlooked, maybe something that they were going to need . . .
Having progressed at a leisurely pace fully halfway up the stairs that ascended toward the distorted building, the prince on impulse stopped and turned to glance back. From here he could see over the hedge bordering the park into its interior. There was the narrow dam, the water rushing over, its muted roar still audible. And there, sure enough, was Trilby, forty or fifty meters away now, standing naked on the edge of the pool. Her brown skin was gleaming wet, and she was getting ready to dive in again.